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Agriculture

Revival of Millet Cultivation

  • 31 Mar 2021
  • 7 min read

Why in News

An International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) supported initiative to revive Kodo and Kutki Millets cultivation, started in the year 2013-14 in Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh, has given new life to the forgotten crops.

  • IFAD is a specialized agency of the United Nations and was one of the major outcomes of the 1974 World Food Conference.
  • Founded in 1977, IFAD focuses on rural poverty reduction, working with poor rural populations in developing countries to eliminate poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.

Key Points

  • About the Project:
    • Beginning:
      • The project was started with 1,497 women-farmers from 40 villages – mostly from the Gonda and Baiga tribes – growing these two minor millets (Kodo and Kutki) on 749 acres.
    • Seed and Training:
      • The identified farmers were supplied good-quality seeds and trained by scientists from the Jawaharlal Nehru Agricultural University in Jabalpur and the local Krishi Vigyan Kendra – on field preparation, line-sowing (as opposed to conventional broadcasting by hand) and application of compost, zinc, bavistin fungicide and other specific plant protection chemicals.
    • Self Help Groups:
      • A federation of the farmers’ self-help groups undertook procurement of the produce and also its mechanical de-hulling (the traditional manual pounding process to remove husk from the grain was time-consuming).
  • Impact:
    • Helped in increasing the number of farmers growing kodo-kutki in the project area to 14,301 in 2019-20.
    • Helped in increasing the acreage to 14,876 acres.
    • Helped in meeting nutritional goals (fighting malnourishment among children).
    • Helped in reviving millet cultivation (crop yields are 1.5-2 times higher than before).

Millets

  • About:
  • Millets in India:
    • The three major millet crops currently grown in India are jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet) and ragi (finger millet).
      • Along with that, India grows a rich array of bio-genetically diverse and indigenous varieties of “small millets” like kodo, kutki, chenna and sanwa.
    • Major producers include Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana.
  • Need for Reviving Millet Cultivation:
    • Nutritional Security:
      • Millets are less expensive and nutritionally superior to wheat & rice owing to their high protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals like iron content.
      • Millets are also rich in calcium and magnesium.
        • For example, Ragi is known to have the highest calcium content among all the food grains.
      • Its high iron content can fight high prevalence of anaemia in Indian women of reproductive age and infants.
    • Climate Resilient:
      • They are also harder and drought-resistant crops, which has to do with their short growing season (70-100 days, as against 120-150 days for paddy/wheat) and lower water requirement (350-500 mm versus 600-1,200 mm).
    • Economic Security:
      • As low investment is needed for production of millets, these can prove to be a sustainable income source for farmers.
    • Can Tackle Health Issues:
      • Millets can help tackle lifestyle problems and health challenges such as obesity and diabetes as they are gluten-free and have a low glycemic index (a relative ranking of carbohydrates in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels).
  • Challenges:
    • Preference for Wheat:
      • Wheat has gluten proteins that swell and form networks on adding water to the flour, making the dough more cohesive and elastic.
        • The resultant chapattis come out soft, which isn’t possible with millets that are gluten-free.
    • Increased Demand for Processed Food:
      • India has seen a jump in consumer demand for ultra-processed and ready-to-eat products, which are high in sodium, sugar, trans-fats and even some carcinogens.
      • With the intense marketing of processed foods, even the rural population started perceiving mill-processed rice and wheat as more aspirational.
    • National Food Security Act Promoting Other Grains:
      • In rural India, the National Food Security Act of 2013 entitles three-fourths of all households to 5 kg of wheat or rice per person per month at Rs 2 and Rs 3 per kg, respectively, thus reducing the demand for millets.
  • Indian Initiatives:
    • Promoting Millets:
      • The Union Agriculture Ministry, in April 2018, declared millets as “Nutri-Cereals”, considering their “high nutritive value” and also “anti-diabetic properties”.
      • 2018 was also observed as ‘National Year of Millets”.
    • Increase in MSP:
      • The government has hiked the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Millets, which came as a big price incentive for farmers.
      • Further, to provide a steady market for the produce, the government has included millets in the public distribution system.
    • Input Support:
      • The government has introduced provision of seed kits and inputs to farmers, building value chains through Farmer Producer Organisations and supporting the marketability of millets.
    • International Initiative:

Way Forward

  • Farming of millets deserves encouragement especially in view of their climate resilience, short cropping duration and ability to grow on poor soils, hilly terrains and with little rain.
  • Because of their accessibility to the poor, they can play an essential role in providing nourishment to people across all income categories and supporting climate adaptation of rainfed farming systems.

Source:IE

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